By Laura Young
For folks in the South Central Jurisdiction, the 2012 conference season is almost over. As you know, once every four years we double up on our vitamins and push through a series of very important and very demanding conferences that propel us into the next quadrennium. General Conference, Annual Conference, and Jurisdictional Conference have come and gone, and we’re getting to take a quick breather. I said “almost over” because our South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) came home with work left undone. Bishop Earl Bledsoe continues to be in our prayers as he appeals the decision to retire him involuntarily. Latest link here: http://www.unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/07/bishop-bledsoe-appealing-involuntary-retirement/
This unprecedented event created a need to keep an open annual conference pending the result of his appeal. That open spot is the combined North West Texas/New Mexico Conference who share a bishop that is scheduled to retire on September 1st. Two retired bishops have been appointed to serve these conferences on an interim basis: Bishop Dan Solomon will serve the North West Texas Conference, and Bishop William Hutchinson will serve New Mexico. SCJ delegates have been told that, depending on the outcome of Bishop Bledsoe’s appeal, we may have to reconvene for the purpose of electing one additional bishop. This decision will be made after the Judicial Council has had an opportunity to meet and rule on Bledsoe’s appeal. That meeting is scheduled for November 9th.
General Conference was disappointing and hurtful as we were unable to make any progress toward the removal of the “incompatibility clause.” The stress and disappointment of General Conference definitely impacted Annual Conference. But I’m happy to say that, while not without struggle, Jurisdictional Conference lifted our spirits.
Before arriving in Oklahoma City for the SCJ Conference, we established a core group of delegates with a common passion for social justice. These delegates represented all thirteen annual conferences in the SCJ. We gathered for a dinner meeting and then continued to communicate throughout the conference using group text messaging. Each person made a commitment to visit with their home delegation as well as reach out to folks in other delegations. The goal was to build relationships and to discuss our favorite Episcopal candidates with both old and new friends – multiplying our votes. It’s rare that so many people ever agree on anything, but with little variation we identified our top four candidates and began visiting with other delegates at every opportunity. These efforts paid off. Our group continued to grow and making new friends became easier. Beginning with Cynthia Harvey, and with each subsequent election, we celebrated as one of our top four was elected!
While electing bishops is the most difficult task of SCJ, much additional business gets conducted. Squeezed in between ballots throughout the week, delegates voted on a number of items, including a proposal to combine several existing conferences. Information on those new conferences can be found here: http://www.unyumc.org/news/detail/1285. Delegates must also confirm recommendations for general boards and agencies. We’re proud and grateful that several SCJ delegates committed to social justice and full inclusion were selected to serve on the General Board of Church & Society. And then finally, late Friday evening, with the exception of the conferences intentionally left open, each of the three annual conferences receiving a new bishop was assigned the very bishop their delegates had hoped for.
Excluding the very difficult task of voting on Bishop Bledsoe’s status, and the delayed appointment of a bishop for North West Texas and New Mexico, the SCJ Conference was a pleasant experience and we’re pleased with the outcomes. In the work for social justice, there is no such thing as an “off season.” We will nurture these new relationships and continue to work together until ALL of God’s children are equally welcomed and celebrated!
We ask that you continue to pray for Bishop Bledsoe, the Judicial Council, and the SCJ Conference delegates and committees. We will likely meet again. And, if needed, will work to elect the most qualified, inclusive, and prophetic bishop available.